Wed Jul 13, 2016 5:56PM
South Sudan’s President Salva Kiir ©Reuters
South Sudan’s President Salva Kiir ©Reuters

South Sudan’s President Salva Kiir has granted amnesty to former rebels backing his deputy Riek Machar, who recently engaged in clashes with government forces in the capital city of Juba.

In a statement released on Wednesday, Kiir said he was "granting (an) amnesty to forces who took up arms against the transitional government of national unity from the 8th to the 10th of July, with effect from July 13."

Fighting between Kiir’s forces and those supporting Machar, who until this year led a rebellion against the government, erupted throughout the capital on Thursday. 

The rivals confronted each other at a roadside checkpoint, leaving five government soldiers dead. Anti-aircraft guns, artillery, attack helicopters and tanks were used in the latest bout of violence.

The warring sides, however, reached a shaky ceasefire on Monday, which has reportedly been holding until now.

Machar troops leave Juba

In another development on Wednesday, Machar's spokesman James Gatdet Dak said the vice president withdrew his troops to the outskirts of Juba, assuring, however, that the official was not planning for war.

"We had to move away from our base (in Juba) to avoid further confrontation," the spokesman said.

South Sudan death toll higher than 272: UN

Meanwhile, the United Nations peacekeeping chief said the official government death toll of 272 for the fresh flare-up of violence in Juba is likely "only the tip of the iceberg."

Herve Ladsous told the UN Security Council that while the truce appears to be holding, further clashes cannot be ruled out.

"We remain very worried about the potential for the resumption of violence and spillover into other parts of the country, as we have seen in the past," Ladsous said.

Government troops seem to be in control of Juba, but opposition forces remain around the west of the city, he added.

Women displaced in recent fighting queue to receive relief supplies as they camp at the Kator Catholic cathedral compound in Juba, South Sudan, July 12, 2016. ©Reuters

The UN said about 36,000 people had fled their homes during the latest fighting in Juba, with 7,000 of them taking refuge at its compounds.

A bloody civil war in South Sudan began in December 2013, when Kiir accused his former deputy Machar of plotting a coup against him. The two parties then got involved in a cycle of retaliatory killings that have split the impoverished country along ethnic lines. 

Thousands of people have been killed and more than three million forced to flee their homes in the war. Nearly five million people are in need of food to survive a famine in South Sudan. 

The two sides eventually signed an agreement in August last year to bring the conflict to an end. As part of the deal, Machar returned to Juba in April to take up the post of vice president in a national unity government. Despite the peace deal, battles persist across the African state.